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Top Vodka Brands Go On Offense With New Innovations, Campaigns

January 30, 2019

Much of the attention in the U.S. vodka category has been centered on the meteoric rise of Tito’s, which continues to soar, advancing by an estimated 22% to 7.4 million cases last year, according to Impact Databank. But Tito’s competitors aren’t standing pat amid the challenging conditions. Leading labels like Absolut, Grey Goose, Ketel One, Skyy, and Svedka are all undertaking fresh innovation and marketing initiatives to connect with new consumers.

Absolut is lining up new positioning in the U.S. after enduring another decline in 2018, slipping 2.5% to 3.7 million cases. “We have a new consumer engagement platform based on sustainability, and we’ll roll that out in the U.S. in 2019,” Pernod Ricard North America chairman and CEO Paul Duffy recently told investors. “In terms of innovation, we launched Absolut Grapefruit in September, and we’re satisfied with where that’s gone in the first few months. Our goal remains to stabilize the brand. This is a challenging category.”

Grey Goose is also retooling, with Patrón CMO Lee Applbaum assuming responsibility for the brand’s marketing last summer. After sliding by a half-million cases in 2017, Grey Goose slowed its rate of decline to 2% to 2.1 million cases last year. Bacardi has been adamant that it won’t compromise Grey Goose’s upscale positioning by lowering prices in order to boost volume. Instead, it continues to bolster the brand with new marketing initiatives. Among the luxury label’s recent moves was a nine-part film series called Off Script, hosted by Jamie Foxx, with each episode featuring a film-centric conversation between Foxx and a fellow actor. Among those making appearances were Denzel Washington, Melissa McCarthy, and Vince Vaughn.

Constellation-owned Svedka eked out a 1% increase to 4.4 million cases in 2018, and it enters 2019 backed by the new multi-million dollar “Bring Your Own Spirit” campaign, its first major push in five years. In 2017, the brand had spent only $500,000 on media, according to Kantar. The ads are designed to appeal to a young, participatory audience by encouraging consumers to interact with Svedka and assert their individuality. Jim Sabia, Constellation’s chief marketing officer, told SND, “We’re confident that ‘Bring Your Own Spirit’ will resonate heavily with a millennial audience, while also speaking to consumers who seek a brand with authenticity, originality, and a diverse mindset.” In recent days, Svedka also unveiled a new rosé vodka.

Skyy declined by 4.6% to 2.5 million cases in the U.S. last year. Campari America recently backed Skyy—which has been hampered not only by heightened competition but also the ongoing weakness in the flavored vodka segment—with a new “Proudly American” campaign, partnering with celebrity John Cena.

While it remains tough sledding in much of the vodka category, Ketel One posted an impressive return to growth in 2018, climbing 9.5% to 2.3 million cases. The Diageo brand has been boosted by its new Botanical range ($25 a 750-ml.), which is at 30% abv and includes Peach & Orange Blossom, Cucumber & Mint, and Grapefruit & Rose expressions. “The Botanicals have been performing really well,” says Diageo North America president Deirdre Mahlan. “The great news is that the data suggest there’s very little cannibalization, and that the Botanicals are recruiting consumers from white wine. We’re getting a significant amount of volume on the Botanicals and the core vodka has improved its performance as well.” Ketel One portfoliomate Smirnoff was flat at 9.1 million cases in 2018. Smirnoff recently received a packaging update, including a new bottle design that’s intended to stand out more on store shelves.—Daniel Marsteller

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